Orrin Freeman knows Gary Hughes is very happy now. “Gary is a huge 49ers fan,” says Freeman, “and now he can just call the general manager and get a nice, comfortable box to watch them.”
The General Manager, of course, is John Lynch, one of the great safeties in the history of the National Football League. Freeman is a longtime Marlins scout, a former University of Southern California baseball player, who worked for the Marlins in 1992 under Hughes, then the Marlins scouting director under GM Dave Dombrowski.
That June the Marlins drafted Charles Johnson in the first round of the June draft. In the second round, they took Lynch, a righthanded pitcher at Stanford. They signed him with the idea of him playing professional baseball when his football eligibility was used up. Lynch made one appearance as a freshman in 1990 as a teammate of Mike Mussina, arguably the greatest pitcher ever to attend Stanford. “He had a power arm (94 MPH), was an outstanding athlete and had great makeup,” says Hughes. “And he had given up football.”
Lynch pitched parts of two summers in the New York-Penn League (two NFL GMs played in that league—Lynch and John Elway). And the Midwest League he won 1 game. He had a 4.46 earned run average. “He had a very good arm, but he had some problems with his command,” remembers Dombrowski. 28 1/3 innings, 29 walks, 18 strikeouts. His catcher was Mike Redmond.
“Then,” says Hughes, “The Great White Father returned to The Farm, and that was that.”
The Father, of course, was Bill Walsh. “He made the right decision,” says Dombrowski.
Freeman went to Torrey Pines, Cal. To try to see if he could talk Lynch into sticking with baseball. “John’s father was very well-to-do, owned dozens of radio stations—including the one that broadcasts Padres games—and, as it turned out, had a lot to do with getting Walsh to come back to Stanford. We tried.”
Hughes and Freeman loved the athletes. In 1994 they took Josh Booty, considered the top high school quarterback in the nation, in the first round. Booty played for the Marlins, went back to L.S.U. and eventually was a backup in the N.F.L.; when Kevin Millar signed with the Red Sox, he tried to convince them to give Booty a tryout as a knuckleball pitcher, but it didn’t work. Too bad. “There’s nothing more boring than being the third quarterback in the NFL,” Booty said, while pleading his case.
In 1996, Hughes drafted and signed a high school shortstop out of Georgia named Patrick Pass, who later played for the Patriots. They drafted and signed Kelley Washington and Javon Walker. When they drafted and signed Clifford Floyd out of high school, he was headed to Creighton as a power forward, as well as an outfielder for Creighton baseball under coach Jim Hendry.
Hughes is now a scout for Dombrowski and the Red Sox. He probably wishes he had seen Andrew Benintendi play high school basketball, as he was an extraordinary point guard, similar to Delino DeShields, whom Hughes drafted and signed away from Rollie Massimino and Villanova when he was rated the top point in his senior class.